Why You Should Volunteer With Your Kids When You Travel

I started volunteering during the summer when I was 11 years old. It started when my dad worked at the Red Cross in Arkansas, and he brought me along to help.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mornings teaching adorable five and six year olds to swim set the foundation for my life philosophy and how I would approach people, other cultures, and the world in general.

Since then, I’ve baked cupcakes to raise money for school supplies in Panama, cut fruit to feed monkeys and bears in Bolivia and taught art and photography classes to children in tiny villages in Argentina.

Now, as an adult traveling with my daughter, we do volunteer work together. The experience is enriching and educational, for both my daughter and me, but it’s also a lot more than that. As she works along beside me, it’s a bonding moment between us.

If you’ve ever considered volunteering with your child while traveling, here are some of the reasons why you should volunteer work.

Why Volunteer With Your Child When You Travel?

family lying on grass
The whole family in Iceland

I read this interesting article by a woman named Pippa Biddle, who wrote about the problematic nature of volunteering.

Her main point being that unless you have the experience to volunteer, it’s best to stay home.

Obviously, most children don’t have extensive international aid experience. They are more needy than the average adult and are usually less able to control themselves – perhaps leading you to question whether volunteering with children is a good idea.

Some may call it irresponsible to bring a child with you, I do not believe that to be the case.

Of course, we are not talking about medical volunteer work or running into a war zone to care for injured people. There are so many types of volunteer work you can do that has an impact, but doesn’t require specialist training or skills.

Here’s a few good reasons why you should volunteer with your kids on your travels…

1. You will learn amazing things while volunteering

A colorful toucan perched on a tree branch
A toucan at a wildlife refuge

Children are capable of incredible things, and too often adults underestimate what they can do.

Volunteering requires a high degree of maturity, patience and kindness. All of which are qualities children possess and are more than able to further cultivate.

My daughter, Lila, has learned responsibility. She took on the job of feeding birds and not only made sure they ate on time every day but remembered to prepare a special dish for the toucan.

She gained skills and knowledge through her volunteer experiences.

Lila learned what monkeys and birds eat, not in a classroom or from a video, but because she fed and cared for animals at a natural habitat wildlife refuge.

She also understands the importance of preserving their environment, because she has seen first hand what happens to those animals when their forests are destroyed.

Working alongside local communities in need helps children develop empathy and compassion as they witness firsthand the challenges faced by others and the power of making a positive impact.

2. Children can learn other languages

Lila can also handle herself in different cultures and in different languages. In truth, we learn language far more quickly before adolescence. What better way to learn than through real world communication?

Traveling and volunteering with Lila have deepened not only her independence but my confidence that Lila can handle herself.

Volunteering abroad with your kids is an enriching and transformative experience that offers numerous benefits for both you and your children. Here are some compelling reasons to consider:

3. It gives them global awareness

Volunteering abroad raises awareness about global issues like poverty, lack of education, and environmental and sustainability issues.

It can be very empowering for children to see first hand some of the shortfalls of this world and put them on the path to becoming informed global citizens.

They will return home with a new-found respect for the world, and can think deeper and more empathetically than their friends at home.

4. Develops skills

Volunteering offers opportunities for children to develop valuable skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and adaptability.

Of course, they can learn all these things in schools, but when learning these skills outside a classroom they are putting what they learn to good use in the real world. This is far more beneficial in my book.

5. They get outside the classroom education

If you want a child to remember something they’ve learned, the best way to ensure this is to make sure they are learning in context and putting what they learn to good use.

The best way to learn about anything, is to learn by doing.

Volunteering provides hands-on learning opportunities that is far more impactful and useful than what they can learn in formal education. We’re not talking just practical skills, but valuable life lessons, too.

6. The blueprint to becoming a better person

Volunteering is all about making a difference. Volunteering empowers children to make a positive impact on the lives of others, fostering a lifelong commitment to giving back and creating a better world.

As they grow older, they will grow up more compassionate and considerate of others, which in turn, will help them to grow up to be a better person.

Tips For Volunteering With Your Children

Volunteering with children South America
Lila sorting donated shoes in NW Argentina

It’s important to remember that volunteering comes with guidelines. These tips will help ensure a safe and positive experience for you and your child.

1. Your child must be part of the decision making process

Talk to your children before volunteering to make sure it’s what they want to do and that they understand exactly what is expected of them.

Ensure they know all their duties and that it’s an important role they play. They need to understand they can’t just give up if they are bored, or that they can’t forget to feed the cat one day.

If they are not totally onboard, then you may want to rethink the kind of volunteer work you do. Top tip; kids usually enjoy volunteer work that works with animals.

2. Ask the NGO or organization if they allow children

Many places will automatically say no. That is their prerogative. The work they do may be dangerous or they don’t have the appropriate resources to support a child.

Even if an organization has a no children policy, it never hurts to ask if they’ll make an exception. Don’t push if it’s not a good fit.

3. Find out what work you will be doing

Not every volunteer group will have a clear outline of the work, so it is up to you to ask questions, contact past volunteers and talk to people at the organization to find out how you can be most helpful and what work you will be doing.

You can also offer additional skills you may possess.

4. Pack well and carefully

Many volunteer organizations will have a list of what you’ll need to pack and how to prepare for your trip. If you can’t find one, ask.

While many organizations provide for your basic needs, it’s best to be as self sufficient as possible so as not to be a drain on resources.

Also, check to see if you can buy food, water, first aid and other items nearby should the need arise.

5. Prepare for the trip together

There are many ways to build excitement and create clear expectations for your trip prior to your departure date.

You can pack together, purchase whatever items you need, research the subject and even learn a language.

6. Work up to a long trip

Don’t start by dragging your child from home where they’ll be surrounded by people who speak a different language and living without their usual amenities.

Instead, start with something more simple. Find volunteer opportunities closer to home.

Before You Go

Before you go, remember it is all about attitude.

It is indeed problematic if a volunteer walks into a community thinking of himself as someone who is there to bestow knowledge on a people who don’t know.

It is even worse when volunteers use resources that would be better left to the community. If, however, you enter the community with the desire to learn and a willingness to take instruction, you send a different message.

I’ve found that showing up with a child allows me to integrate more seamlessly into the local community, because the role of parent cuts through all cultural and language boundaries.

When Lila sits on the dirt floor of a one room church in a tiny village with no running water and no electricity and draws with a child her own age, she builds relationships based on common experience.

When you treat people with respect and are considerate of their time and culture, you teach your children that money, privilege and color of skin do not determine worth or friendship, and that is an incredibly powerful lesson for all.

Have you volunteered with your children? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.